As the White House Proclamation stated earlier this month, “On National Manufacturing Day, we celebrate our dedicated American workers who carry on this legacy, recognizing that manufacturing is a cornerstone of our economic prosperity and national security.” Manufacturing businesses are essential contributors to our economic health and wellbeing, infusing $2.38 trillion annually into the national economy.
Manufacturing is especially important in rural America, where manufacturing plants and businesses can thrive due to generally lower property taxes, more reasonable land prices, and a unique quality of life. During a time when the coronavirus pandemic has created many challenges, rural economies are looking for new industry options, expanded manufacturing, and enhanced exporting avenues. New policies implemented by President Trump’s Administration combined with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) resources may provide rural America a boost for what it needs to regain revenues and support communities.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rural communities experienced an economic surge as manufacturing increased, creating new jobs and attracting top talent. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that President Trump signed into law earlier this year further bolstered their ability to export across North America. Throughout the negotiations, SBA had a seat at the table, giving small businesses an amplified voice in crafting the policy that will drive continental trade for decades to come.
With manufacturing infusing new life into rural areas, streamlined export processes and SBA’s program resources, rural small businesses may now more easily act on their exporting goals. SBA has made a concerted effort to increase trade opportunities, ensuring small businesses access to international markets and the vitality of American manufacturing exports.
Created intentionally to assist small business exporters, SBA’s Office of International Trade offers financial assistance to businesses looking to expand trade opportunities. Through a suite of finance programs, including revolving lines of credit and loans that can be used for working capital, fixed assets, and debt refinancing, these programs are geared toward helping businesses increase their profits, reduce market dependence, and stabilize seasonal sales. Small businesses looking to export can apply for these products by contacting a local SBA Export Finance Manager.
The State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) is another way the SBA assists small businesses. Through STEP, small businesses looking to export goods and products can use the grant funds to participate in foreign trade missions, develop and design international marketing campaigns, translate marketing materials into other languages, and more. Since its creation in 2010 as part of the Small Business Jobs Act, STEP has recorded over $3.8 billion in exports and awarded approximately $157 million in grants to fund export opportunities, increasing the footprint of American small businesses in countries worldwide.
Furthermore, the SBA’s Office of International Trade can help any small business that faces barriers in accessing international markets. The office publicizes the small business benefits of U.S. trade agreements and helps protect the rights of small businesses under these agreements. Small business manufacturers and other rural businesses looking for information and assistance on how to connect with more international customers can explore resources from SBA OIT and its partners at sba.gov/tradetools.
The SBA has worked diligently to direct financial support to manufacturing businesses critical to rural America throughout the COVID-19 pandemic response. Through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), manufacturing businesses received $54 billion, assisting more than 238,000 small businesses and retaining countless jobs. The impact of this aid was clear in September’s jobs report, which reported growth of 66,000 manufacturing jobs. The industry is bouncing back and driving job creation.
With 95% of the world’s consumers living outside our borders, American products have more potential than ever before when businesses venture into international markets. Now is the time for community leaders to further invest in manufacturing and small businesses to tap into the exporting resources to grow hometown businesses and communities. To talk with someone about your exporting potential or manufacturing idea, visit sba.gov/oit, or to find more resources available for small businesses in rural America, visit sba.gov/rural.
Dan Nordberg serves as SBA’s National Director for Rural Affairs and Region 8 Administrator based in Denver.